President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and allies are already touting and defending his newly announced executive order to temporarily halt immigration to the United States, even as the White House has yet to release the full details of how the administration intends to implement the President’s plan.
The flurry of steps reflected the political underpinnings of Trump’s late-night announcement on Monday, which the President said came in “light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizen.” The move – which could prove largely symbolic, given the restrictions on immigration already in place due to the coronavirus pandemic – allows Trump and his campaign to play directly to his base on the issue of immigration, which the President believes won him the 2016 election and he hopes to use again in 2020.
After Trump announced the order on Twitter, his campaign bombarded supporters with text messages and email alerts informing them of the decision and touting it as a prime example of Trump’s “America First” approach. The President’s newly installed press secretary issued a statement saying the move reflected Trump’s commitment to “protecting the health and economic well-being of American citizens,” without explaining who would be affected by the order, what it was limiting or when it might be signed. Later, she wrote that Democrats had “betrayed” the “hard-working Americans President @RealDonaldTrump is putting first.”
The pre-buttals also reflected another reality: The final executive order may not stop all immigrant workers from entering the country. Already, administration officials have advised agricultural groups that seasonal farm workers won’t be affected.
Trump campaign officials with direct knowledge of the strategy argued the move was smart politics by the President, because it addresses a specific anxiety related to the pandemic within the American public while highlighting a longtime approach to border security by Trump. It comes as the President has expressed frustration privately over his reelection strategy. While once counting on the economy to boost him in November, his campaign has been forced to change tactics and immigration has always been the President’s safest rallying cry.
“This is directly in line with the President’s ‘America First’ agenda,” one official said. “He has long been committed to keeping our borders safe and this is the perfect time to highlight that priority and implement his plan.”
The Trump campaign touted the proposed executive order as addressing two big concerns related to coronavirus in one package. First, by denying access to immigrants, it lessens competition for American citizens in an already weak job market, and second, it is designed to slow the spread of the virus by limiting the number of potentially infected people who enter the country.
“President Trump’s immigration policy just makes sense as the United States fights the war against the coronavirus,” said campaign Communications Director Tim Murtaugh. “He has two main goals: to protect the health and safety of Americans and to safeguard the economy. This decision addresses both.”
Still, the details of the plan remain murky and there is some question as to whether the President has the authority to institute such a broad mandate by executive authority alone.
Confusion about the executive order exists within the White House as well. A person familiar with the matter says administration officials began working around the middle of last week on an executive order that would restrict immigration after Trump raised the matter privately with aides.
Trump’s principal adviser on immigration, Stephen Miller, was involved in the discussions over the past several days, according to people familiar with the matter. Miller has long acted as a main internal advocate for limits on immigration through executive action.
Even so, the late-night announcement on Monday caught some administration officials off guard since the order wasn’t finalized and some of its provisions hadn’t been fully fleshed out. Facing criticism over his administration’s response to the coronavirus, Trump had been impatient to announce the order, a person familiar with the matter said.
Democrats were quick to raise doubts about the plan and the motivations by the White House to push a plan like this forward at this particular time.
“I think it is another diversion. The agencies don’t even know what it is,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, on CNN’s “New Day.” “No one knows what it is. Last – yesterday, the day before, we were talking about WHO. I think the President ought to stop these diversions.”
A trio of Republican lawmakers met with Trump at the White House on Tuesday, where the executive order was discussed, among other topics. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida appeared to suggest the executive order was not yet complete.
“It’s my expectation that later today, the administration will be issuing clarity on the types of immigration that will be impacted by the order and the duration of the order. Because obviously, the President’s tweet was in response to what we’re dealing with coronavirus, and thus I think clarifying the time frame will be helpful for all Americans,” Gaetz said.
He continued, “I think that the constellation of ideas that the President is currently refining in that executive order considers the types of folks who would regularly traverse the border for commerce, as opposed to those actually engaged in the act of immigration, who don’t live in the United States and come here for that purpose, there will be perhaps some distinction there.”